When you go shopping online for a gift or even an item for yourself, you probably spend some time looking at customer reviews…almost everyone does.
Reviews are meant to be tools customers can use to gauge if the product they want to purchase is worth a particular price and if they’re willing to put up with whatever headaches other buyers have experienced. They’re also valuable tools for eCommerce sellers everywhere – or at least they are supposed to be.
What Went Wrong with Amazon Reviews
It’s no secret that Amazon reviews have had problems for years, with merchants propping up their storefronts with inferior products or products they simply weren’t interested in marketing properly and online reviews with the help of an army of compensated reviewers.
Some of those reviewers were paid in hard cash, others given free items to try or promotional prices in return for a “fair and honest” review. These reviews, though, were rarely fair or honest. That’s not to say every product was poor quality or dissatisfying, but more that the reviews didn’t fully represent the item for legitimate future buyers.
Recently, a company called ReviewMeta, which publishes an app designed to help shoppers figure out what Amazon reviews are from customers and which are from paid reviewers, did a massive analysis of the reviews on Amazon. What the company found wasn’t exactly shocking, but it helps put the whole Amazon review ban in perspective.
Of the over seven million reviews looked at, 30 percent were incentivized, which would be bad enough, but those incentivized reviewers were also 12 times less likely to give a 1-star rating and four times less likely to leave a critical review in general. Furthermore, the average product score for an incentivized review was 4.74 as opposed to the already generous 4.36 of a non-incentivized review.
This Ban Should Help Everyone
If it’s been one of your go-to marketing tactics to incentivize reviewers, you’re probably going to be pretty disheartened that Amazon has come down so heavy handed on this practice recently.
Your reviews may well have been on the up and up, but the problem is that too many weren’t. The numbers bear that out more clearly than anything could. It’s one thing for a customer to buy a $2 tube of Pringles that’s questionable because of a near 5-star rating when it should have been more like a 3.5, but it’s something else when your product is a major purchase.
Customers don’t want to be bilked out of their money, they want fair products for fair prices and transparency across all channels. There’s nothing that could be easier. If you’re afraid customers won’t like your product for what it is, lower the price point or send it back to the manufacturer and demand a better product to distribute. Real customer reviews let other real customers know what to expect from the millions of items available on Amazon, the world’s largest and most complete retail marketplace.
Although it may seem like you’ll never get enough reviews for your new products right now, there are plenty of legitimate ways to go about encouraging your customers to write about their orders.
Here are a few to try:
- Send follow-up emails. Although you’re only allowed to use the Amazon system to communicate with customers, it doesn’t take long to insert a boilerplate letter thanking them for their order and encouraging a review of the product they purchased.Different tactics have been used, depending on the product, but some of the most successful seem to be the emails that are sent a week or so after the customer receives their shipment. This way they’ve had time to use their item and really get a feel for the good and the bad.
- Use branded packaging. Honestly, this tactic should be used together with thank you emails, as they do so much good for so little effort. Although Amazon will send your products in their own boxes if you’re having them do your fulfillment, or you might use plain shipping boxes if you do your own, the packing inside can still be used as a branding tool.Display your name and URL largely on the product’s box, insert some literature about your company or website, slip in a coupon—anything to encourage further contact and more customer touch points. Customers will naturally return to review products to help if they feel they’re part of something bigger.
- Sign up for Amazon Vine. If the business you’re promoting is absolutely dependent on reviews, then you can still get them—for a price. Amazon allows companies classified as Amazon Vendors or those registered through Vendor Express to access Vine and pay for a certain number of products to be given out and those recipients are encouraged to review them.The difference between this and directly arranged reviews is Amazon can be certain there’s no way the seller is influencing the recipient in any way. In exchange, the seller gets very thorough and articulate reviewers who are considered to be knowledgeable in their product area.
So, the bad news for some is that Amazon has banned incentivized reviews (except for books, you can still send those out as freebies and ask for reviews), but the good news for consumers is that Amazon has banned incentivized reviews. This means the playing field is more level, for companies of all sizes, and that customers have a chance to see what other shoppers really think about products.